Asian stocks edge up on stimulus hopes after Chinese data

SINGAPORE — Asian markets were mostly higher Thursday as slowing Chinese industrial output left traders hopeful of more assurances from Beijing.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 gained 0.7 percent to 21,431.28 and the Kospi in South Korea was up 0.1 percent at 2,149.48. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.1 percent to 28,840.30. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.1 percent to 6,167.00.

The Shanghai Composite lost 0.6 percent to 3,010.06. Shares were flat in Taiwan but fell in Singapore and the Philippines.

China's industrial output grew 5.3 percent in the first two months of 2019 from the same period last year, official data showed Thursday. This was weaker than expected and the slowest pace of growth in 17 years.

But other numbers beat analyst's expectations. Retail sales climbed 8.2 percent and fixed asset investment rose 6.1 percent in the same period. The National Bureau of Statistics combines readings for January and February to account for the Lunar New Year holiday, where many factories and businesses are closed.

"The mixed bag of numbers featured the industrial production miss most prominently, at 5.3 percent year-on-year against the 5.6 percent consensus," Jingyi Pan of IG said in an interview.

"The focus would likely return to economic policies very soon and expectations for the raft of policies announced thus far to help shore up economic performance," she said.

On Wall Street, stocks secured their third straight gain on Wednesday after health care and technology companies rose. Boeing dipped briefly, but ultimately finished slightly higher, as the U.S. joined much of the world in grounding its 737 Max 8 aircraft after a fatal crash in Ethiopia on Sunday.

The broad S&P 500 index gained 0.7 percent to 2,810.92. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.6 percent to 25,702.89 and the Nasdaq composite climbed 0.7 percent to 7,643.41. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks was 0.4 percent higher at 1,555.88.

Oil prices advanced after a weekly U.S Energy Information Administration report showed that crude stockpiles fell by 3.9 million barrels from the previous week. This marked the second decline in three weeks.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 10 cents to $58.36 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained $1.39 to settle at $58.26 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 17 cents to $67.72 per barrel. It picked up 88 cents to close at $67.55 per barrel in London.

The dollar strengthened to 111.59 yen from 111.17 yen late Wednesday. The euro eased to $1.1325 from $1.1326.

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